how to revinvent yourself

3 Ways to Rebuild Your Life When You’ve Hit Rock Bottom

“Thinking will not overcome fear, but action will.”

– W Clement Stone

In 2010 I had the best year of my life. By far.

And then in 2011, I had the worst year of my life. By far.

I was living abroad in China, living the life I had always dreamed about – full of adventure, variety, and spontaneity.  I had friends from 20+ countries all over the world. I learned to speak another language. I was constantly traveling. I had the closest friends I’d ever had since childhood.

In other words, life was the way it was supposed to be.

And then I moved back to my home country.

I had no friends.

No job.

No apartment.

I moved back into my childhood home because I couldn’t figure out “what next?”

And then, for the first time in my life, I got really depressed.

It’s a funny thing being depressed if you’ve never been depressed before – suddenly, there’s a wall of resistance around everything in your life.

Everything is so difficult. It takes so much effort. Every day is a struggle.

It overwhelmed my thoughts, and every waking moment I found myself driving around town thinking, “meaningless – all this stuff is totally meaningless.

I would apply to jobs but find myself thinking, “this is all pointless. Why am I doing this?” I sabotaged every action of mine.

Naturally, when you view everything in life as meaningless, it becomes that way, and I was really struggling. And that’s when I decided I was tired of being worn out by this constant feeling of hopelessness.

It took me more than a year to piece this together, but I found 3 things that successfully flipped the coin for me – three things that saved me.

1. Create a happiness ritual

When you’re rebuilding life from the ground up, every day is filled with chaos.

So one of the key things I did for myself was create a “happiness” ritual. It added predictability and stability to my life.

I wrote down a list of all my favorite things throughout the day, and here’s what I found I enjoyed most:

  1. Sitting in coffee shops reading with an afternoon espresso.
  2. Exercising. It turned off my mind and made me feel good.
  3. Kayaking in the ocean. It was a peaceful afternoon session where I could enjoy the outdoors and peace and quiet.

So I had three key activities as part of my happiness ritual, and I made myself do them every day.

The key for me was to figure out how to fill the day with the stuff you love.

Even if it’s just a few things that take an hour, create your own daily happiness ritual and do it every day.

2. Do a 30 day experiment

The second thing I did was try to figure out when I was in flow throughout the day.

Flow is an experience we’re all familiar with – time evaporates, the activity is enjoyable, and we’re learning and growing – but many people don’t know that in studies it’s been shown that Flow producing activities are often the highest highs of the day for many people.

So I did a 30-day experiment – I set a timer on my phone to go off every 2 hours.

When the timer went off, I had to write down two things:

  1. What was I doing?
  2. Did I feel like I was in “flow” with whatever I was doing? Was it enjoyable, was time passing effortlessly, was my mind turned off?

At the end of 30 days, I had tons of information about activities that I naturally was engaged in and super happy without even knowing it.

For example, I learned that freelancing with some clients was actually a high point during my day. I left our meetings with energy and excitement.

I also learned that talking with people was flow producing. As an introvert this was a bit surprising, but just casually talking with people about life consistently put me in flow and was a high.

These were all things I didn’t know 30 days before.

Once I found out which activities naturally made me happy, I began filling my days with more of them.

3. 80/20 Your Problems

The last thing I did was fix the “nagging” issues that bothered me.

In other words, what things were making me the most unhappy throughout the day? What were the main things affecting my mood?

I nailed it down to a few things:

  1. Loneliness. I had no social ties.
  2. Work I disliked
  3. Certain time periods – weekends, and late nights

I then viewed each thing as a problem that needed creative solving.

So for example, I found myself constantly craving social interaction.

Rather than staying at home, I started hanging out in a café in the mornings. Over time, the people began to recognize me, and friendships naturally developed from there.

Since I was relaxing (or sometimes working) in the café, if I wanted to take a break from reading I could find people to talk with. Even if it was quiet, I was surrounded by people.

My work was also un-enjoyable and I wasn’t feeling engaged. I had way too much time to be thinking. Over the coming months I gradually shifted jobs to a startup with a more relaxed atmosphere filled with people I got along with.

Last, my flow test taught me that certain periods of the day were really low for me. Late nights after work at home alone and the weekends (when I had a lot of free time) were the lowest lows.

So I scheduled activities that filled those gaps – I started taking Judo in the evenings.  I started a meetup.com group on the weekends and started taking day trips into New York City to see museums.

I viewed everything in my life making me miserable simply as a puzzle piece – it was something I could creatively fix, rather than just something I had to deal with.

As time went on, one day someone came up to me and mentioned how “happy” I seemed.  I hadn’t really thought of it, but it was true.  The pieces had all started coming together.

What about you?

At some point, many of us end up at the lowest low in our life. Nothing seems to work. Nothing is enjoyable. There’s resistance everywhere.

Just remember that there’s always a creative way to get back on path. And maybe these three ways – having a happiness ritual, doing a 30 day flow experiment, and doing an 80/20 of your nagging problems – will help you get one step closer back to a life you love.

And don’t ever forget – we are far more resilient than we think. Just because last year might have been the worst year of your life, doesn’t mean this year can’t be the best.

Alexander runs Modern Health Monk, which helps people reverse health problems caused by 21st century life. Check out his free 8-part weight loss mini course, or start with his free insider’s health kit.

***

70 Responses to 3 Ways to Rebuild Your Life When You’ve Hit Rock Bottom

  1. Willie Scholtz says:

    Wow, amazing article, I on the other hand have been struggling with depression most of my life and even though I know most of the tricks to help, this helped me a lot! Really looking forward to the happiness ritual

  2. This post really spoke to me, last year my husband and I had a ‘rock bottom’ experience and for months it felt as if the world was caving in on us. I’m currently in the process of writing an article about this experience right now. I loved this post, it was very encouraging and reinforced the key practice that got me through those long months, mindfulness. I agree we are all very resilient and its amazing what we can accomplish and get through. Thanks for writing such a helpful post.

  3. Drew Tracy says:

    I love the 30 day experiment. I think that I may try that one. Great Post!

  4. Ragnar says:

    The 30 day experiment definitely sounds like a good idea. I’m actually trying to work my way out of a similar position now. Starting with challenging myself to work a job that’s definitely not my dream job. Even though I was going through much of the same, and feeling that everything was pointless, I kind of nailed the interview because I’ve gotten used to faking confidence and motivation over the years, haha. But then again I did spend a lot of dead-time first just trying to figure out life by just thinking, not the best idea.

    Going to take these things to heart!

  5. Josh Emmanuel says:

    Thank you for the article.

    Flow – what a great concept. Something to experiment with in the future!

  6. Smitherine says:

    Fantastic article. Thank you for sharing your wisdom. Loving “flow…” :)

  7. Sabrina says:

    This morning i felt like i need someone to teach me how to go on, how to stop feeling lost on my way, and i was lucky to find your article! This is the best thing i’ve ever read! Thank you very much for sharing it!

  8. Flag says:

    Great article!!! thkx

  9. Hey Ragnar,

    Sweet, let me know how it goes ! And yeah, that shift from thinking about life… to thinking by doing, is huge (and critical).

    Cheers
    Alex

  10. You’re welcome Flag.

  11. Smitherine,

    Grab the book! In my opinion, one of the top 5 most important books to read.

  12. Cheers Tina!

    I’m glad to hear you guys are pulling through. It’s definitely a pretty crappy time… and not easy. The resistance in every direction is a pretty awful feeling. But try out the experiment and let me know how it goes!

    – Alex

  13. Awesome Willie, glad you learned something new! Let me know how it goes.

  14. Lida says:

    Thank you very much for this life saving article. I am going through this period right now. I havent got to grad school. I am applying for jobs but nothing. I dont know what I really want to do in my life. The most heartful thing in this process is that everybody arounds you think they are expert of your life and judging you and giving you instructions. But i want to spend a little time to get to know myself like you did. Thank you again.

  15. Lida says:

    And I have to add my self esteem gets lower everyday because I feel useless.

  16. Kenny says:

    Great article Alexander, thank you for sharing your tips. I find the 2 tips similar to what i’m doing now which is mindfulness and meditation daily. Really helps me to keep myself in check and not go crazy. I’m still struggling with lack of motivation, jobless, and a possible depression as of now but things felt better when i’m just in the present via meditation and being mindful. reading helps too.

  17. Suzanne says:

    Very helpful, Thank you !

  18. Inga says:

    Thanks for the article!

  19. abhisar bansal says:

    ya it gives hope to survive.thanks for the article dear buddy.

  20. MAO JR says:

    This was short but complete thought of your life, I’m thinking to do those things now. .

  21. Michael Patrick Mulcahy says:

    Alexander, Thank you for writing this article. I found it very insightful. Congratulations on overcoming this life challenge and transitioning the hurdle into a positive growth experience for others.

  22. young at heart says:

    Thanks for sharing your experience and insight! Your approach to look at “everything in my life making me miserable simply as a puzzle
    piece . . .” is so constructive. I absolutely agree in our power to “creatively fix” instead of simply “deal with” what isn’t right. Our real power is in our thinking and the actions we take based on those thoughts. Thanks again!

  23. This is a brilliant post. I love the idea of setting a phone alarm every few hours to kind of check in with yourself what you are doing and is it interesting and valuable. You have some really useful ideas to help improve you daily life, so thank you.

  24. Ephoenix says:

    I have been feeling the very same way for a while now. I moved from my home state of NY to FL nearly 8 years ago and haven’t been quite the same since. I know that I can change it, I even went to a mental health forum the other day, but I never thought of it like a “puzzle piece” as you mention. This article really adds some clarity to the issues I’m having and how to “solve” them. It’s nice to know that I’m not the only one that feels or has felt this way, thank you.

  25. An says:

    Thank you for sharing this.I am in a similar situation after i came back from China.

  26. You’re very welcome Lida :)

  27. You’re welcome Ephoenix :)

  28. Kenny, I TOTALLY agree that mindfulness is an incredibly important practice to have especially when we’re in a bad part of life. It saves lives.

  29. michael de santa says:

    im at rock bottom I keep on masturbating it first started out as once a month then its frequent like everyday it seems I lost everything to this evil addiction theres got to be a solution online to stop the pain

  30. bouvierszczepanik says:

    I love your article but what is someone took all of your money with them… after 11 years of being your best friend, he rubbed you blind of everything. I mean everything he even took my house…I wish I wasn’t so scared, but I don’t know what to do.. He was perfect for 11 years…one day I woke up, and all was gone..I trusted him with my life.. since Ive been living a nightmare. I wish I could enjoy a coffee shop, or a walk, but I’m homeless … and jobless.. finishing gradschool..trying to breath which is not easy..

  31. Cynic says:

    Yeah. Coz I can just afford the time and money to kayak and hit the gym EVERY SINGLE DAY.

  32. Paul says:

    you’re article sounds like you had a lot of money to throw around if i could afford espersso’s everyday, cars and kayaks i’d probably be pretty happy too.

  33. julia says:

    Once I began reading your article, couldn’t help but to cry hard.
    Your story is so similar to mine! I am just back from living 8 years abroad and the cultural shock is huge
    I mean,everything you described here i am being through now. The only difference is that i moved because of my son and iam asingle parent back in my parents house.
    I reached theock bottom yesterday and its been10 hours and i cannot stop crying.
    Time for serious change.
    The adventurous, multicultural and free spirit life is somethi ng i had for more than 10 year.
    I cant get over how much i miss it all.

    Thank you for sharing your insights. I really needed an article like yours.
    Best wishes

  34. Sophia Paulin says:

    Last year, I did have a horrible year, left my job, dealt with mental health issues, broke up with my husband and list a good friend, it was full on traumatic. I googled How to rebuild my life? And found this article. Very helpful, I think Im on track :)

  35. jenny says:

    I find it interesting how you only reply to the comments that praise your article and not to the others that bring up some valid flaws. Coffee shops? Judo? Kayaking? 30 day flow experiment? None of that appeals to me at all. I don’t think you really get what “lowest low in our life” means. If I didn’t have to get out of bed to go to my job to make money just to pay the bills…I wouldn’t. I search the web just to find some hope. Didn’t find any here.

  36. Darlene S. says:

    to all the people mocking his ritual of kayaking, exercising, etc, its HIS happiness ritual. Its exclusive to him. You do not have to have the same one. I am sure there are things you can do in your life that may not sound as fulfilling as kayaking etc, but it is what you make it. everyone’s lives are different. There are bits of happiness in all our lives if we look in the right places. no matter how small. make it count. and take the negativity elsewhere. how could you comment negatively on a person’s post about finding positivity when you’ve hit rock bottom?? the hell

  37. Tanya says:

    Every personality and every situation has a different ‘answer’ that is required. This article obviously worked for Alexander, and may work for others. However may not work for you, and may not work for me.
    But thats life. … We keep searching until we find something that will suit our personality and our situation… For me, this 30 day plan won’t work, I have a daily battle of high and lows, and no money to throw around… But I do like the idea of writing down positive and negatives every few hours, and how we feel in that moment in that activity, I will try that.

  38. Tanya says:

    I totally agree Darlene. Just because someones depression is different to our own does not mean we cannot be a source of encouragement in their personal battle.
    Well worded!

  39. anonymous says:

    http://www.jw.org/en/bible-teachings/family/teenagers/young-people-ask-volume-1/
    I found that the link above to a book, chapter 25 has a chapter on – How can I conquer the habit of masturbation?
    It is a great read for any young or older person. no matter who you are.

  40. Tanya says:

    I personally am in a position at the moment, when I had a life plan, but a guy has come in and ruined all my friendships. It is such a difficult situation that I can’t even explain it. when i was 10 years old I planned how I would commit suicide when I was older and I am just consisitently in a battle of mind and heart.
    I hope that everyone finds a way to keep on going. Life is worth it.
    I am going to try the alarm and stop and write down what I am doing and how I feel about it… I would like to see if that works in reevaulating my thoughts and actions…

  41. dianegordon says:

    Wonderful article, Alexander.

  42. Joe says:

    I am currently starting over again rebuilding my life (if you want to read about how it is going, I am writing a blog about it at http://rebuildingat30.blogspot.com). It took years to get to the point where I was even willing to rebuild. I don’t know how to do it, if I can do it. I am scared to be honest with you.

  43. sunyvalle says:

    Alexander, thanks for posting this. I’m exactly at the same point. I’ll follow your instructions. How long did it take you to get out of this? I’ve been in it for 2 months.

  44. Madeupname says:

    thankyou

  45. Heather says:

    Thanks for writing such an accurately descriptive article…it brings me a small measure of hope that eventually life can be normal again. You were also able to put most of my emotions into words; I think sometimes people can only see the big picture but you brought the nitty-gritty daily grind hopeless emotions to the surface. Without meaning to offend, just being honest, your advice does not apply to me in this current stage of my “struggle”, except possibly the daily happiness…although even that would be hard to come by for me & would consist of 1 (really 3) thing: my kids. While I think your advice & suggestions are unique & offer hope they are inapplicable to my current situation: my Husband & I (well, the whole family) are victims of the economic downturn…he lost his job & ever since it’s been bad news & badder news. We’ve done what we could to bring money in but I think we’re finally at rock bottom: no vehicle, no steady jobs, no home. It’s not for lack of trying, however! We currently stay with a Friend (that’s how I have internet) but with 3 kids in tow you kind of wear out your welcome pretty quickly. I’ve tried to find, apply & get approved for any state programs to help, we search & apply daily for jobs, we do handyman & landscaping “jobs” for the neighbors, etc. When no one ever calls for an interview, what can you do?! I got off track but the point of this comment is to say Thanks because it offered me a glimpse of happier, easier times…life can’t ALWAYS be like this (I pray…). Good luck to anyone else feeling low; hang in there!

  46. -A says:

    Hi,

    Tonight I sit here very depressed and alone in my personal battles, I decided to Google the phrase “how to rebuild your life” – this article came up. It was nice to read this, I am certainly going to try it. I recently moved back home after living in Manhattan, pursuing my dreams. Coming back has been difficult, my mom has cancer, I came back to take care of her. When I returned I felt life was pretty good to me, no kids, we’ll traveled, decent looking, smart enough to hold down an intellectual conversation and relatively young – in my early 30’s. I quickly realized the grass was green in NYC. My friends are married – with kids, travel for work or live somewhere amazing. .. here I am, none of that. I must rebuild my confidence and be proud of who I am again. I hope this helps. Thank you for sharing your recommendation – it makes me feel better, reading, it can be done.

    Sincerely,

    -A

  47. M says:

    A….let’s connect. Ontoomuch@aol.com

  48. Gant says:

    I’m going through this period where I just wanna move away from all the drama and start my life all over and I dont know what to do. I wanna just move somewhere and have nothing and build myself up. Please help.

  49. Kelsey says:

    Thank you for suggesting concrete strategies for dealing with feeling depressed and lost in life. Most articles that I have read regarding this topic focus on positive thinking and stress management, which are important but usually do not address the root of the problem. This article not only promotes self-analysis but outlines some great strategies on how to do so. I can’t wait to put them to use!

  50. Micke says:

    Bravo Darlene,
    I’m on my first step of the ladder out and you have given a voice to those who think they want a better life “misery loves company group”. Just reading through all the posts and Alex’s authentic words AND using HIS OWN WAY, (as he said FOR ME) it’s a guide, he’s helping by example (NOT telling the MISERY MOVEMENT GROUP) what to do but merely sharing HIS OWN way. Now if one cannot see that then go jump and keep off the boards as it’s a universal cause and effect.
    It’s already given me tools to start helping myself. I am 43, circumstances and realizations from family, ( always known as support) have brought me to what I call my fear bubble. Partner of 15yrs walked out of my life without a conversation and completely by shock, 3 months later family judged me for being depressed and haven’t heard from them in 21/2 years. Loneliness has become what I know and hate, here’s a start to think and plan differently. As my internal soul has suffered but is still alive needing guidance to heal and only I or one can take those steps.

    Step one today for coming across this board, thank you everyone, see right here is a classic case of SUPPORT and am grateful.

    Thank You,
    MICKE

  51. tugba sivrikaya says:

    This is the first article I could read since I have felt that I hit the bottom. I searched for many sites, many ideas, many counsellors. I felt that this article would be a good start to re-organized again. I feel like I am at zero point and I should do something different according to past. Hope it works. From now on there is a cafe I stop by everyday. This is the only thing I enjoy nowadays. And I wish I am going to have a more satisfying life in the future. I am eager to benefit from each line. Thanks for help.

  52. Deli says:

    Well, this is all well and good for single male with the option of freeloading at mama’s house. Trying being in a rut as a single mother of two small children, one of which is disabled and forced to rent. Lemme see you break out of that. Ha!

  53. Angel says:

    This is like “rock bottom-lite.” I lost my job 6 months ago when my company shut down, have a debilitating, painful, untreatable genetic disorder along with PTSD from that time I was raped by a serial rapist/murderer. I have no family – my dad’s dead & my mother and I have been estranged for a decade. Top that off with debt & a drinking problem. I have no safety net, no one to catch me as I fall. I’m gonna lose my car & home within the month, have no money & nowhere to go. THIS is rock bottom!

  54. Hi Paul – An espresso is $1.50

    Not eating out each week saved much more than $1.50 a day. And a kayak is free if you know someone who owns one.

  55. Thanks Darlene :-). Listen, it’s easy to find a reason to be unhappy if you want to be unhappy. Based on most of the comments, many people here would rather be unhappy.

  56. Hi Jenny –

    They were merely suggestions for you to figure out what works best for you.

    Everyone’s low is different – and yes, I went through YEARS of struggling to get out of bed to pay my bills. You do what it takes, decide to change, and make progress a little bit each day.

  57. Hi –

    It’s impossible for me to give any person unique advice – do the best you can, pick a small change, and then keep going.

  58. Do the best you can.

    Also, stop describing yourself as a cynic.

  59. Suny – it took me a while, but it’s different for every person.

  60. You’re welcome Julia :-). Hope it helped.

  61. Sarina Amira McBride says:

    ikr No apartment but can stand around in coffee shops drinking Latte. Must be nice. Sounds like this person never truly hit rock bottom but just likes to feel like they did lol

  62. Melissa Burrows says:

    You are awesome thank you

  63. Melissa Burrows says:

    You have helped me immensely .. I so needed this . For me it’s been way longer and so lonely even with some people around but thank you thank you

  64. Angela Jensen says:

    Thank you Alex for sharing. I found your advice to be useful. By picking simple 3 things I enjoy / that refresh me, helps me stay focused on the present… And to enjoy the present. I also liked that you pointed out to be honest about what is making you happy /miserable in life. So often I’ve tortured myself by thinking that I just needed to adjust my attitude or outlook. By doing so I only prolong my misery, till it led to depression. It is important to give yourself permission to pursue happiness. Thanks for your courage to share.

  65. K. Moran says:

    Alexander, thank you for sharing a glimpse of your situation and how you chose to work yourself out of it. These ideas are great, and I am adding them to my armory of tools, especially the 30 day challenge to find when your in flow.

    To past comments (and their authors)… You totally missed the point if you are judging the author and/or his situation or you are comparing your situation to his. There is so little information about his situation for you to assume that you understand what his experience was. I would challenge you to start a blog and openly share your situation and the lessons that you have learned and see what kind of judgement you receive from anonymous people online.

    This is about sharing tools that may very well help you out of whatever situation you may be in your life. Tools that can be tweaked and modified to fit you and your situation.

    Think out side the box, and don’t be a jerk in one!

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